When 18-month-old Harlee Knoeferl was diagnosed with neuroblastoma more than a year ago, the Pediatric Hemotology and Oncology Center at Medical College of Georgia Hospital became a second home.
"We lived at the clinic for four rounds of chemo," said her mother, Denise Knoeferl. "They always made sure we had a room and she was an infant; she was only 4 months old."
After nearly a year of treatments, including a surgery to remove part of a tumor at the base of Harlee's spine, Knoeferl said her daughter's prognosis is good.
Soon, the center for children stricken with cancer and blood diseases could become a more comfortable place for treatment, with help from Columbia County students and principals.
The Columbia County Principal's Association started a fundraiser at 22 county schools Feb. 6 for the hematology and oncology center to improve its amenities for the children, said Kirk Wright, principal of North Harlem Elementary School.
"Going the Extra Mile for MCG's Children" officially kicked off at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, said Mike Carraway, the chairman of the event, whose son was treated at MCG for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
The money raised will go toward improving the waiting areas of the center and providing more games, movies and other comforts to help the children pass the time between what are often long and painful treatments.
"That center provides care for children with cancer, sickle cell, hemophilia and many other illnesses," Wright said. "It provides excellent care, but it could use a facelift to provide extra space for families to sit during treatments (and) for kids to have access to different entertainment activities while they are undergoing treatment, which for a lot of kids is an all-day event. It's a worthy cause."
The fundraiser will culminate with a relay walk March 18 from the Columbia County Board of Education office in Appling to MCG, Wright said.
For every dollar the students and staff of each school raise, that school's principal will walk one yard, Wright said.
Each mile would equate to more than $1,700 raised and MCG is about 25 miles from the school board office, which would amount to more than $42,000.
Wright, who in September walked 20 miles to his Harlem school from his home in Evans for Hurricane Katrina relief, said he'd like to see the students emulate the success of that drive, which raised more than $75,000.
"It's close to home," Wright said. "Katrina was a great cause of course but when you look at a hospital that serves the CSRA and our kids ... it helps everyone in the community."
Wright said there are at least 12 children in Columbia County schools who are currently receiving treatment at the center.
There are 22 principals participating in the relay, and donations will be accepted at any Columbia County school, Wright said.
He said he is encouraging his colleagues to motivate their students by offering them something special for reaching a goal.
"The main carrot I'm dangling out there (for the students) is a rooftop concert," Wright said. "I've found that if they can get me to do something that's crazy, the kids love it and they'll bring in that money."
The goal for North Harlem Elementary is $3,500, or about two miles, Wright said.
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